Could The Vikings Really Land the No. 1 Overall Pick in 2021?
The Vikings showed a lot of improvement against the Titans and, in Mike Zimmer's words, probably should've won their first game of the year. But in the end, they found a way to drop their third straight and fell to 0-3 in 2020.
As a playoff berth becomes less and less likely with each passing Sunday, a sizable portion of the fanbase has begun looking towards the 2021 NFL Draft, which happens to feature a generational quarterback prospect. Frustrations with Kirk Cousins – who is tied for the NFL lead with six interceptions in three games – have led to endless photoshops of Clemson's Trevor Lawrence in Vikings purple.
But does Minnesota really have a chance to wind up with the first overall pick next April? Based on what we saw on Sunday, I don't think so. This team might be bad, but it's not the worst team in the league. The Vikings have some serious holes, but they also have a lot of talented players and were expected to win 8-10 games for a reason.
Then again, I never saw an 0-3 start coming, so who knows what the next 13 games hold.
The Broncos, Giants, Jets, Texans, and Falcons are right there with the Vikings as the league's six teams to lose all three of their games so far. The Eagles and Bengals, by virtue of their tie on Sunday, are right behind (in front of?) that group at 0-2-1.
Let's take a look at the numbers. Football Outsiders gives the Vikings a 5.7 percent chance of landing the No. 1 overall pick and the long-haired quarterback that comes with it. For the record, that's still two times lower than FO's playoff odds for the Vikings, which are down to 11.7 percent. Their chances of having a top-five pick, which could mean a consolation prize at quarterback in Ohio State's Justin Fields or North Dakota State's Trey Lance (a Minnesota native), are suddenly at 31.3 percent.
The Vikings currently have the seventh-highest odds of ending up with the top pick. Here are the top ten teams in that category:
The top three on that list, in particular, are going to be tough to out-suck. The Broncos have lost a massive group of key players – including Drew Lock, Von Miller, Courtland Sutton, A.J. Bouye, and Jurrell Casey – to injuries. They're rolling with either Jeff Driskel or Blake Bortles at quarterback for the time being. The two teams that play in New Jersey have looked utterly hopeless so far and could legitimately lose 14 or more games. The Vikings are also probably better the the Washington Football Team, the Panthers, and the Bengals, and potentially several others.
The combined record of the Vikings' remaining opponents is 20-19. That puts them 14th in remaining strength of schedule with 13 games still to play. It's not a perfect measure, considering three games is a small sample size and the 3-0 Bears probably aren't actually better than the 1-2 Saints or Cowboys. But we can still use it to gauge how the Vikings stack up with some of the "competition" for the No. 1 overall pick.
Here are the remaining winning percentages of the eight winless teams, per the aptly named Tankathon:
- Jets: .615 (2nd-toughest)
- Texans: .603 (4th)
- Eagles: .538 (T-8th)
- Bengals: .538 (T-8th)
- Vikings: .513 (T-14th)
- Broncos: .513 (T-14th)
- Giants: .474 (19th)
- Falcons: .462 (21st)
Honestly, the Jets feel like the favorites here to me. Adam Gase is pretty clearly the worst coach in the NFL, and Sam Darnold is approaching Josh Rosen territory when it comes to awful surroundings and dwindling confidence.
We're almost guaranteed to have at least two teams leave the winless club in Week 4. The Broncos and Jets face off in what should be a thrilling Thursday Night Football contest, while the Vikings are taking on the Texans on Sunday in Houston. I say "almost guaranteed" because the Eagles and Bengals just proved that it's possible for two winless teams to play each other and for both to remain winless.
The Bengals host the 1-2 Jaguars this week and could get into the win column if Joe Burrow continues to play at a high level. The Giants (at the Rams), Eagles (at the 49ers), and Falcons (at the Packers) all seem likely to remain winless for at least one more week.
There's a semi-realistic chance the Vikings and Falcons will both be 0-5 heading into their meeting in Week 6.
With that said, keep this in mind: talks of the Vikings tanking for Lawrence, Fields, or Lance are a fun way to deal with a frustrating and disappointing start to the season, but this team isn't going to tank. Not with an established head coach, a veteran quarterback, and players like Dalvin Cook, Adam Thielen, Justin Jefferson, Yannick Ngakoue, Eric Kendricks, and Harrison Smith.
If not for some costly late mistakes, clutch kicking by the Titans, and awful interior offensive line play, the Vikings would've beaten a very good Tennessee team on Sunday. They're going to win games this year at some point...I think. It seems like the Vikings might end up with a 5-11 or 6-10 record this year – not good enough to sniff playoff contention, but maybe not bad enough to get one of the top quarterbacks.
If they continue to lose, the odds will continue to increase. In the event that the Vikings are 0-6 heading into their bye week, the #TankForTrevor talk is going to be all over the place.
Until that happens, let's try not to get ahead of ourselves. Even if the playoffs are a pipe dream at this point, winning games is good for sustaining a strong culture and creating positive momentum for 2021.
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